What does the idiom "ups and downs" mean?

Are you using the idiom ups and downs but not sure about its meaning? Using idioms, which are important elements of spoken and written language, in the right place strengthens your language skills. Examine the meaning of the ups and downs idiom and the situations in which it is used.

Meaning of "ups and downs"


The phrase 'ups and downs' is an English idiom that is used to describe the highs and lows of life. It is usually used to refer to a difficult or challenging situation which contains moments of both success and failure. In other words, the phrase is used to describe the challenge of trying to stay positive in the face of adversity, as life is often unpredictable and difficult.


The phrase 'ups and downs' has been used for many centuries and can be traced back to the 16th century. The earliest known use of the phrase was found in Thomas Moore's poem, 'The Ballad of Tim Hurley' from 1596, which reads: "Then truly 'tis time to turn up or down, For there's ups and downs in life's journey." The phrase has been used ever since, with its earliest recorded usage in print in the early 1800s.


The phrase 'ups and downs' is often used in informal, everyday speech. It is used to refer to a situation where someone is experiencing both positive and negative outcomes. It is often used to talk about life, work, and relationships or to describe a particular period in someone's life. For example, someone might say, “Life is full of ups and downs” or “I'm going through some ups and downs in my relationship.” The phrase can also be used in a more figurative sense, to describe the combined effect of joy and sorrow in a situation, for example, “There were ups and downs in the performance.”

Example Sentences

  • Life has its ups and downs, but in the end it's all about how you deal with them.
  • I'm not sure what to expect, there have been a lot of ups and downs in my job lately.
  • We've had a lot of ups and downs in the past few months, but we're still here and still strong.

The meanings of the words in the "ups and downs" idiom

Idioms have a common language

"The early bird catches the worm" is an English idiom that means that those who wake up early and start their day early are more likely to succeed. A similar idiom in Spanish is "El que madruga, Dios le ayuda," which translates to "God helps those who rise early." This idiom emphasizes the importance of starting the day early in order to achieve success.


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